Patricia D. “Trish” Shannon, CPA, CGMA


Patricia D. “Trish” Shannon, CPA, CGMA
Patricia D. "Trish" Shannon, CPA, CGMA, is the CFO and senior vice president for strategy, innovation, finance, and grants management for the AARP Foundation in Washington. (Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images)

"We're focusing on tracking outcomes"

Charity's public mission: The AARP Foundation has a vision of a country free of poverty, where no older person feels vulnerable. We focus on the low-income 50-plus population. We're a public charity, and as such we raise funds from individuals, state and local governments, corporations, foundations, and other organizations. We also receive contributions from AARP. Our annual revenue is a little over $225 million, and we have about 300 staff across the country.

Linking strategy, innovation, and finance: I love my job! It's the first time in my career where I've had responsibility for strategy and innovation in addition to finance. From what I've seen, it helps with the planning process and the management of the organization when planning and budgeting are connected. I like how it allows me to have great insight on what's happening across the foundation and lets me align and manage the resources in support of the mission.

Promoting transparency: As investors in our mission, donors want to know about the work that we are doing, and they want to know how their money is being spent. That's why we are challenging ourselves to move from counting outputs to tracking outcomes and impact. Our donors want to know more about how their funds were used beyond, for example, the number of people who attended training on how to manage their money. They want to know that people are now handling their finances better, making solid credit decisions, or adopting other positive behaviors as a result of going to the training.

Approach to strategic planning: Ultimately, you have to know what you're trying to achieve with your organization, because that drives the plan you put in place. You want a plan that guides the decision-making of the organization. A for-profit [organization] has a clear signal if customers aren't buying the product; they know that they've got to change course. For nonprofits, it's a little bit different because you don't have the customer. We are trying to learn as much as we can about those we serve so that we can build interventions that will help them succeed, and we want to know their perception of our work.

Bring people along: The best way to promote effective financial management is for finance professionals to get out and talk to their colleagues. To really understand the business and what drives success, finance professionals can't be isolated and separate from the work. In addition, we have to communicate financial principles in a way that colleagues will understand and be able to apply. That takes the fear out of the financials.

—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson (sheonlwilson@aol.com), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.

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